News & Events | LAF Blog

LAF News Blog

Stay up to date on LAF!

Subscribe to RSS Feed

In Remembrance: Debra Mitchell, FASLA

We were shocked and saddened at the passing of Debra Mitchell, FASLA on April 5. Deb had a distinguished 40-year professsional career, the last 26 years of which was spent at SmithGroupJJR where she served as a Senior Vice President and national design leader. Deb contributed so much to the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) in so many ways for a long, long time. She served on the LAF Board of Directors in 1989, 1992, 1997-2007, and 2010-present, with a term as President in 2000–2001.

debmitchellDeb at one of the many LAF Annual Benefits she attended over the years.

Her legacy is clear as she had a deep commitment to research in the profession and helped LAF navigate and grow through several key transition periods. Under Deb’s service and leadership, LAF became an organization separate from the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), successfully completed the Second Century Campaign that raised over $2 million, and developed the following signature programs, which have been very impactful for the landscape architecture profession and LAF’s mission to preserve, improve, and enhance the environment:

  • A Case Study Method for Landscape Architecture
  • Land and Community Design Case Study books
  • Landscape Futures Initiative
  • Olmsted Scholars Program
  • Landscape Performance Series
  • Case Study Initiative (CSI)

“Deb was an incredible person and talent. I say without a doubt that LAF would not be where we are now if not for Deb and her ideas, dedication and commitment. She will be missed very much,” said LAF Executive Director Barbara Deutsch, FASLA.

We will especially miss Deb’s keen wit and her infectious laugh. We caught both on tape during our Practice-Based Research webinar and several of our Landscape Performance videos.

To continue her commitment to advancing the landscape architecture profession through education, research and a sustainable ethos, Deb left a bequest to LAF through the JJR|Roy Fund, which supports LAF’s research initiatives.

deb-jjrroyfundThe JJR/Roy Fund was paramount in launching LAF's Landscape Performance Series.

“I want the JJR/Roy Fund to continue to be such an asset to LAF. LAF is a forward-thinking, big picture organization, and I have been a proud Board Member for many years. I have had the joy of seeing the impact that LAF is making in the profession and am confident in LAF’s ability to grow and thrive as an organization.”

Those wanting to do something in Deb’s memory can contribute to the JJR/Roy Fund (Include “Debra Mitchell” in the “In Honor/Memory of” field) or contribute to her alma mater the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.

More about Deb’s life and legacy can be found at: SmithGroupJJR tribute

  1. Liz Carr GanshirtApr 4th, 2016 11:40pm
    Liz Carr Ganshirt said:

    I worked with Deb for several years as a Marketing Coordinator at JJR in Chicago. She was demanding and perfectionistic - and exactly what I needed. She taught me many lessons about how to market well, how to design well and how to be accountable. She kept her promises. I remember one Friday she had mentioned that she had paperwork on her desk to process a raise for me. Our day got crazy as they all did. We were both there late. I was getting ready to leave and she came running after me. She wanted to get that paperwork done. She had promised. I often think of this when my kids want me to do something with them - something I have promised. It can't be put off. Deb wanted to honor her promise to herself as much as her promise to me. She had an amazing ability to stay the course. Personal integrity, stamina and strategy made her a force to be reckoned with. I miss her and I am glad to see the love and respect she received from your group.

  2. Bill MainMay 5th, 2015 10:28am
    Bill Main said:

    Deb had a great sense of humor and a very practical way of asserting her intellect and energy. Like many others, I really enjoyed working with her on the LAF board. She raised us all up and will be missed.

  3. Peg Staeheli FASLAMay 3rd, 2015 2:40pm
    Peg Staeheli FASLA said:

    Deb "reached out" extending her energy through her creativity and stewardship and extending her hand through her friendships and service. I feel honored to have recently met her and to have felt her authentic warmth.

  4. Jim ManskeyMay 1st, 2015 11:17am
    Jim Manskey said:

    While I never had the opportunity to work with Deb directly, I often crossed her path in the profession. She was always a passionate advocate for landscape architecture, and for LAF. It will be a difficult void to fill!

  5. Jim StansburyMay 1st, 2015 8:56am
    Jim Stansbury said:

    I had the pleasure, and many rewards, of working with Deb when I was an ASLA Trustee Chair. She was a wonderful person and leader, and I will always treasure her wit, tenacity, and contribution to my personal transition to collaborative visioning and problem-solving.

  6. Carol WhippleApr 27th, 2015 1:31pm
    Carol Whipple said:

    I'm shocked and sadden by Deb's untimely passing. As I was a young woman professional coming up through the ranks, she was a great mentor and influence. I always looked forward to seeing her at the annual meetings...her bright and positive outlook with others and the profession will be so missed.

  7. Glen SchmidtApr 24th, 2015 12:22pm
    Glen Schmidt said:

    I was shocked and saddened to read of Deb's passing. I enjoyed connecting with her each year at the annual meetings, but Deb’s acceptance speech at the 1992 Annual Meeting as our new national President inspired me greatly. I will never forget it as she showed tremendous foresight, leadership, and feistiness as she spoke of our need as a profession to step out of the shadows. The centerpiece of that talk was a quote by Omar N. Bradley “Set your course by the stars, not by the lights of every passing ship”. That fueled a fire in me that burns to this day. Thank you Deb; rest in peace.

  8. Patricia O'DonnellApr 22nd, 2015 8:15pm
    Patricia O'Donnell said:

    Deb had a true compass, witnessed over years, for directing her life toward her beliefs in our landscape architecture profession and its power to improve our world. She expressed in word and deed, knowledge, understanding, and skill in her works and collaborations applied with enthusiasm and warmth. A strong and capable leader of our tribe, she is missed and mourned.

  9. Kris FloorApr 20th, 2015 9:07pm
    Kris Floor said:

    Deb contributed to the profession in so many positive ways for so many years that her guidance will continue to be a strong influence for years to come. I am grateful for having the opportunity to have worked with her.

  10. Kathleen GarciaApr 19th, 2015 3:12pm
    Kathleen Garcia said:

    LAF, and the landscape architectural profession, has lost an amazing champion with Deb's passing. Her energy, enthusiasm and professionalism is something we can all strive to match. I've always looked up to Deb as a role model, from when I first met her in San Francisco in the early '80s to now, as LAF Board Emeritus. She inspired and encouraged me to join the LAF Legacy Society through Planned Giving, and I see through her deeds, what real effect such gifts offer the future of landscape architecture. She has left us all with big footsteps to fill for long term support of LAF.

    I'm very honored to have known her, what an exemplary woman Deb was!

  11. David AkiyamaApr 18th, 2015 2:30am
    David Akiyama said:

    Deb was my hero. During my time as a graduate student at the UIUC, I got to speak with her on numerous occasions and gleaned much personal on professional insight - while I no longer practice, I am shocked and deeply saddened to learn of her passing. Deb was one of a kind, and someone I thought of often, no matter where I was, or what my professional endeavor.

  12. Phil StuepfertApr 17th, 2015 9:50pm
    Phil Stuepfert said:

    I only knew Deb for a short amount of time but was so impressed by her spirit and infectious positive attitude. She was so smart and witty and was just a pleasure to be around and learn from. I wish I would have been able to spend a lot more time with her because she had a great impact on me. She will be missed greatly in our profession.

  13. J Robert AndersonApr 17th, 2015 6:29pm
    J Robert Anderson said:

    Deb and I officed next to each other back in 1974-5 at Illinois. You would have never guessed the two of us becoming Fellows of ASLA from our school work - great memories of a skilled leader and friend. She gave all of us a lot of her heart and soul.

  14. George L. Sass, FASLAApr 17th, 2015 7:29am
    George L. Sass, FASLA said:

    I was shocked and saddened to hear of Deb Mitchell's passing on April 5, 2015. We worked together in various capacities from the time she joined JJR in 1989 at our Dallas office. For ten years we supported one another as Office Dirrectors and JJR Board Members. I was most impressed by her enthusiasm and always positive attitude. I marveled at her ability to juggle time and energy between ASLA, LAF and JJR. She never disappointed, was always giving and never taking. Landscape Architecture was her passion and her enthusiasm for it was contageous. She will be missed.

  15. Josh MartinApr 16th, 2015 12:22am
    Josh Martin said:

    So shocked and saddened to hear. Deb had become a great friend who welcomed us into LAF. I will remember the stories she told and her passion for design and education. We will miss here. Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family and loved ones.

  16. Rebecca LeonardApr 14th, 2015 11:41am
    Rebecca Leonard said:

    I have been attending the ASLA CEO-Roundtable for the last two years. This is a strong and very intimidating group. Deb, eased into the seat next to me at the second meeting and became my steadfast lifeline. She was graceful, caring and positive. I know this limited experience pales in comparison to the long relationships others shared with her, but I promise you here today that it was VERY impactful. I will think of Deb every time I see a new face on the roundtable (or any other event for that matter) and will reach out to them immediately!

  17. Allyson MendenhallApr 14th, 2015 11:13am
    Allyson Mendenhall said:

    I am so saddened by this news. I always looked forward to hearing Deb’s laugh at LAF board meetings or on Research Committee calls. Working with Deb on the Landscape Performance Series inaugural webinar last year I was impressed by her high-level and pioneering thinking about the topic, but also her detailed knowledge of implementing sustainable strategies in her projects, and comfort level in talking about water budgets and other modeling tools to test design alternatives and outcomes. Her passing is a loss to landscape leadership, but her legacy will live on.

  18. Kona GrayApr 14th, 2015 10:02am
    Kona Gray said:

    The news is indeed difficult to comprehend. She is such a wonderful person and will be missed dearly. I am personally sadden that our time together was short, yet her impact was incredible.

  19. Dennis CarmichaelApr 14th, 2015 9:58am
    Dennis Carmichael said:

    So sad and so soon. Her energy was contagious and you always felt optimistic in her presence; that everything was going to be all right. It does not feel all right now, but it will eventually as we honor all she did for all of us.

  20. Bill Kuhl Apr 14th, 2015 9:50am
    Bill Kuhl said:

    This indeed is very sad news. Deb was such positive force and personality as well as being such a wonderful person. I feel lucky to have know her and her passing will leave a real void in our professional community.

  21. Peter OlinApr 14th, 2015 9:47am
    Peter Olin said:

    Very sad news. She was one of a kind.

  22. Nate CormierApr 13th, 2015 7:44pm
    Nate Cormier said:

    Deb was my first LAF friend. I was attending an LAF/Landscapeforms event in Chicago and JJR had a happy hour at the office the night before. I didn't know a soul, but I had the great fortune to encounter Deb as soon as I walked in the door. She made me feel welcome and part of the circle from day one and ever after. So glad others already mentioned her laughter...when I close my eyes and think of her, it is the first thing I hear.

  23. Chip CrawfordApr 13th, 2015 5:45pm
    Chip Crawford said:

    So shocked like everyone else to hear about Deb. She was an amazing mentor for me at LAF and in 'all- things-life' as a Landscape Architect. Her contributions to our profession and especially to LAF are why we have realized such success. I am so thankful I got to cross paths with Deb, and will remember her amazing leadership, but most of all her infectious wit, humor, and smile. We will miss you Deb Mitchell!
    THANK YOU for all you did for all of us.
    My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

  24. Phil ArnoldApr 13th, 2015 5:34pm
    Phil Arnold said:

    Too soon and painful to lose such a wonderful person, an outstanding leader and consummate professional and we are so fortunate to have known her. For as long as I can remember, she was a friend with an inspiring message and boundless energy who was fun along the way. Oh I can hear her laugh…..

  25. Fritz SteinerApr 13th, 2015 5:04pm
    Fritz Steiner said:

    Deb possessed a wonderful combination of grit and humor. We will miss both.

Leave Your Comment

Subscribe to an RSS Feed for this post's comments, and find out when someone responds.